Dear Pope Francis:
When you called the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, we welcomed this initiative as a genuine attempt to consult the people of the Church. We now write to you on the cusp of the Synod to express our dismay at the process employed in selecting participants from the faithful, a process that ignores your commitment to “involve all the People of God” and sadly reflects the continued mindset of clericalism with its reluctance to be accountable and transparent.
Having now announced that 14 married couples from 12 nations will join 197 bishops, 15 other clerics and 16 lay experts at the Synod, we are at a loss as to how these representatives of families were chosen. In a truly transparent and accountable Church, the selection process should have been open. Moreover, only 24 women will participate as collaborators and auditors without a vote in the Synod deliberations, despite your call in Evangelii Gaudium “to create broader opportunities for a more incisive female presence in the Church” and for the expansion of “possible roles (for) women in decision-making in areas of the Church’s life.”
Among the married couples and non-clerical auditors and collaborators selected, few represent the diversity of families within the Church, but rather organizations that generally support existing doctrine, much of which was questioned by grass-roots respondents to the Synod survey circulated globally last year. Regrettably, non-clerical participants from the faithful will be only a small minority (17.2%) in an essentially clerical forum, and will have no vote in the decision-making process.
While responses to the Vatican survey and our own research indicate that an overwhelming majority of Catholics ignore much of what the Church condemns, those participants selected to represent families at the Synod are largely advocates for traditional Catholic teachings, and are unlikely to challenge those teachings. It seems that the Synod has been designed to ensure that bishops are being sheltered from the voices of diverse Catholic families who live their daily lives not always according to the formulations in the Catechism, but attuned in good conscience to their understanding and embrace of the word of God.
The magisterium has to be attentive to the sensus fidelium, the living voice of the people of God. The Theological Commission’s 2014 document Sensus Fidei in the Life of the Church affirmed this: “Those who exercise authority in the Church will take care to ensure that there is responsible exchange of freely held and expressed opinion among the People of God. More than this, they will set up norms and conditions for this to take place” (n. 74).
We ask, therefore, that you review the arrangements for this Synod to ensure that there is within its membership a truly adequate representation from ordinary and diverse Catholic families, with appropriate provision for them to share their views, be heard, and to have a vote.
As an additional assurance of openness of the proceedings, we urge you to arrange public broadcasting of the complete Synod discussions via radio, television and the internet. If this Synod is for the people of God, then it should be open to them. Here is an opportunity for a real new evangelization.
Holy Father, we are committed to a Christ-like Church in all its works and governance. This Synod is a unique opportunity for renewal and it must be credible. If it lacks credibility in this first session, it will prejudice the success of the final session in 2015.
We pray for you, and the success of the Synod under the guidance of the Holy Spirit!
Yours in Christ,